A call-out for primary schools to take part in the proposed Hot School Meals Scheme will be announced in the coming weeks.
The scheme, which has launched in a Dublin school, could eventually be rolled out to all primary schools in Ireland. Hot lunches with a choice of meat or vegan dishes are being delivered each day to Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Goldenbridge in Inchicore.
Third class pupil, Ellie, has told Newstalk the meals "are massive, they are. They're delicious and I loved the meatballs." Isabelle, in second class, says she and her classmates feel "really warm" after eating the meals; while Nicola, who's in sixth class, says "the meals are really good and we're really lucky to be the only school in Dublin getting them."
"They're massive, they are." The children of Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Goldenbridge react to the Hot School Meals Scheme. Listen here: https://t.co/VuvDWMy92y #newstalk pic.twitter.com/9hg7BtQakX
— Aideen Finnegan (@AideenFinnegan) February 5, 2019
The DEIS school is being used as a test run to address any teething problems before the pilot begins in earnest in 35 other schools. If it proves successful, Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty, is to seek funding in this year's budget for the programme to be rolled out to all primary schools, regardless of need.
"I don't believe in treating children differently. If it's good enough to give one child a hot nutritious meal, then it should be good enough for all children."
Regina Doherty, Minister for Social Protection
It will cost €2.5m to fund the pilot for one year with 7,200 pupils set to benefit. It's not yet known how much it would cost to provide the service in all primary schools, but almost €58m was set aside for the Cold School Meals programme in 2018.
Lack of facilities
School principal Tonya Hanley says the programme is particularly welcome at a time when so many homeless families are living in emergency accommodation, with limited or no access to a kitchen.
"We do have a percentage of children who are homeless and live in a variety of accommodation types around the city, be it in hubs or hotels. [Getting] access to cooking facilities can be a problem."
According to fifth class teacher, Patrick Dillon, "You can feel the excitement of the children. Some of them are trying certain foods for the first time. I think it will be great for them to have a consistent, healthy diet. I would hope it would help with their fitness, which is something we've been working very hard on in the school."
In the coming weeks, the Department of Social Protection will invite interested schools to apply for the pilot. One school in every county will be selected. There are over 3,000 primary schools in Ireland.
You can listen back to the full report on The Pat Kenny Show here.
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